Historically, societies have viewed disability in a variety of ways. In the past, many have applied medical and charity approaches to disability.
Societies have tended to assume that disability is all about the person’s mind or body.
Until relatively recently, the situation was no different in Guernsey: islanders with disabilities were often seen as having “something wrong with them” that either needed fixing, or that meant they were helpless and in need of assistance.
For centuries, the islands churches and Parishes provided support for those affected by disability and, in the 20th Century, scores of charities were established on the island to help those affected by disability and chronic health conditions..
Successive Guernsey governments tended to organise services so that persons with disabilities, in particular those with long term disabilities, were segregated and grouped together within various institutions. Some persons with disabilities were segregated from mainstream society throughout their lives.
The big disadvantage of these early models is that, as soon as society groups people together, such groupings tend to lead to exclusion and stereotyping and to attempts by service providers to adopt a “once size fits all” approach.
Historically, disability has often been prejudicially associated with inability and helplessness and the medical and charity models tend to reinforce these stereotypical ideas.
In the 1970s, British disability activists developed a completely new way to view disability. These activists were suggesting that it was society that disabled them, not their impairments.
For example; when suppliers of goods and services only gave information in writing, all persons with visual impairments were disadvantaged, and, when no thought was given by architects and designers as to how wheelchair users would be able to access and use buildings, services and public facilities , it was the architects and designers flawed designs that disabled those with restricted mobility.
The United Nations saw sense in the new Social Model understanding and, in 2004, started to develop the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with the Social Model at its core.
The Social Model has developed further through the development of the Convention. The Convention, as a whole, can be said to use a “Human Rights Model” understanding of disability.
In a nutshell, that model recognises the rights and freedoms of individuals (rather than groups), affected by disability and that:
“disability results from interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.